Election 2024 is inching just a bit closer day by day. The occasion of deciding a President is a celebration of our democracy. It is the culmination of a campaign season many Americans can’t wait to finish up. In the media world, it is also the moment cable news networks like MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News shine depending on the day.
For a network like CNN, when big news breaks where details and facts are vital, viewers have historically trusted them to provide the who, what, where, when, and why of a situation. A network like Fox News on the other hand has cemented its position with viewers where they know they can tune in to hear the facts while figuratively reading the opinion section of the newspaper as well.
Over at MSNBC, though, the only type of viewers they’re getting are those who want to receive perspective from the left side of things. The divide is seen very clearly, specifically on the weekends. When news isn’t breaking as often as it would during the week and political events aren’t as frequent, CNN dominates MSNBC in overall ratings and the demo.
MSNBC presents the facts just like every other outlet but its ratings only benefit when a story that is breaking galvanizes the Democratic base. Sometimes, that is a good problem to have. But even in this long journey covering an election, there can be some really slow days on their end of the spectrum. An announcement the network made this week has the potential of future-proofing the network in more ways than one.
Luke Russert will be joining forces with NBCUniversal again to launch a live events business known as MSNBC Live. Frequent guests that appear on the network along with other newsmakers and political shakers will sit down with Russert and some of the network’s personalities for discussions about world events in front of a live audience. It is a new type of business that NBCU has slowly learned to cultivate through BravoCon – a gathering of Bravo’s biggest reality stars under one roof.
MSNBC Live has the capability to create headlines. On a slow day or a non-competitive day depending on the headlines, something that a panelist says during an event could trigger the talking points hosts discuss for the rest of the day. If an interview goes really well or super viral, one of the campaigns or candidates themselves may have to respond which could help MSNBC increase its relevancy in the upcoming race and potentially change or at least make an impact on American history.
The live events business can also serve as programming on the network itself. Special events that don’t happen often and are live and direct will always draw viewers out of curiosity, especially during a political competition as crazy as 2024. Giving viewers a reason to watch the exchange of ideas that is different from the norm could help draw an audience that normally doesn’t consume MSNBC depending on the guest.
There is a likelihood we will see fewer campaign events and direct debates than the average election due to Donald Trump’s impeding court cases and his campaign’s disagreement with the debate process. Americans voting in 2024 will be heavily influenced by the opinions of pontificators who will barely have a say in the day-to-day decisions the future President will make.
By hosting these live events and occasionally broadcasting them, MSNBC could serve as a home for unique viewpoints and debates that are different from the bickering and robotic forms of discussion normally held on cable news. When Elon Musk spoke at NYT’s DealBook convention and CNBC broadcasted it live, over 200,000 people watched it – a number that is way bigger than the average ratings on the financial network. If viewers are presented with a unique format with a unique personality giving their take that they don’t normally hear from in a specific type of environment, viewers will support the product and watch.
As the cable bundle dwindles, it is also important for MSNBC to find other sources of revenue that distinguish itself. MSNBC is no longer NBC’s main 24/7 news vehicle. NBC News Now has that title now. CNBC has always had its own lane focused on financial news. MSNBC has figured out how to level the playing field within NBCU by focusing on progressive politics but that lane hasn’t found as much success in the streaming world on Peacock or YouTube.
MSNBC and Rachel Maddow, the star of its network, have found much more success through the podcast sphere. But podcasts aren’t as lucrative financially as the cable bundle. The network has to continue to find ways to keep shareholders happy and this is the perfect way to continue to have a direct bond with the network’s consumers without a middleman.
Jessie Karangu is a weekly columnist for BNM, and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for news and sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He also previously wrote a weekly column for our sports media brand, Barrett Sports Media. Jessie can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Proof That Both CNN and Fox News Manipulate Their Audiences
Playing with numbers and technicalities is a function of what the media does today. Since the average person just reads the headline, viewers will likely move on if it confirms their own bias.
When news organizations collide, journalism loses. Last week, CNN posted on X saying “US inflation cooled down in January, offering some relief for Americans who have suffered through the steepest price hikes in four decades.” The same day Fox News posted “BREAKING: Inflation rises faster than expected in January as high prices persist.”
While these are seemingly opposite statements, both can be true at the same time. More importantly, both of these outlets are manipulating their audience.
People like their own opinions and want those opinions verified by others. This is what social media has done to news: You read the post, see your opinion is valid, and then move on to the next clickbait (confirmation bias). More importantly, both of these tweets are true because one is based on an estimate, and one is based on actual numbers.
Looking at CNN, while their post on X seems positive, their business headline is a little less positive, “Inflation cooled last month, but some price hikes continue to cause pain.” The change from tweet to headline is striking. One says Americans are getting inflation relief, the other says inflation continuing to cause pain. In today’s world of “Read the headline and move on,” this is why people feel CNN lies. Its post is in conflict with the headline— even though both are true statements.
It’s not until you read the article that people can see how this is possible. The outlet notes overall inflation did cool when comparing January 2023 (6.4%) to January 2024 (3.1%). Four sentences into the article it says, “CPI rose by 0.3% in January.” It goes on to break down why inflation is still high and causing pain in the pockets of Americans. Although the X post is factually correct, people on the right side of the political spectrum feel CNN is untrue because they see the inflation problem in their bank account.
Meanwhile, the Fox News X post and Fox Business headline are identical, “Inflation rises faster than expected in January as high prices persist.” However, the keyword here is “expected.” Inflation did cool year-over-year. However, because Fox is comparing the January 2024 number to what experts expected the number to be, what they have posted is factually correct. This nuance is sometimes lost on readers.
The article does not mention inflation is down year-over-year. However, nine sentences into the article, the business outlet says, “Inflation has fallen considerably from a peak of 9.1%.” The nuance of “expected” combined with the lack of mentioning year-over-year inflation is down is why the left side of the political spectrum believes Fox lies.
Let’s be clear, neither CNN nor Fox News have lied (on this one specific topic). They both chose to present the same data differently. It also needs to be noted, CNN and Fox News are not the only outlets that do this. They all do. Playing with numbers and technicalities is a function of what the media does today. Since the average person just reads the headline, viewers will likely move on if it confirms their own bias. The problem is twofold.
- Facts are no longer direct but skewed to fit a narrative.
- Some viewers accept headlines and posts without diving deeper into the article.
We have been trained to share a headline without reading the article. We’ve known this since 2016 when Columbia University and the French National Institute found 59% of shared social media links were never read. We’ve gone from headlines selling newspapers, forcing people to read the articles, to headlines being shared on social media, but people won’t read the articles.
This is only a small part of why The Messenger failed: neutrality. The sentiment of unbiased news was well-intentioned. However, America has lacked unbiased news since 1987 when the Fairness Doctrine was abolished. Many on the left believe this has helped right-leaning outlets. This is false. Not only has it benefited both sides of the aisle, it can be argued the progressives have benefited more than the conservatives (but that is a different article for a different day).
When news outlets collide, the American public loses. Not because we lack news, but because we lack the ability to read the full scope of the issues in one place. Outlets are not forced to present all sides of the political argument or present the entirety of data sets. Additionally, news is not being fully read. Headlines are now king. Shares, clicks, and likes keep the lights on in newsrooms. Most importantly, facts are now nuanced. This forces debate instead of continuity and cohesion.
Krystina Alarcon Carroll is a columnist and features writer for Barrett News Media.She currently freelances at WPIX in New York, and has previously worked on live, streamed, and syndicated TV programs. Her prior employers have included NY1, Fox News Digital, Law & Crime Network, and Newsmax. You can find Krystina on X (formerly twitter) @KrystinaAlaCarr.
Does Dealing With Criticism Ever Get Easier?
Engage in the content of the criticism and ignore the rest – or at least take the high road. If that gets difficult, end the conversation.
Thick skin. If you work in media, you gotta have it. If you don’t, you either won’t last or you won’t sleep – or both.
Even if you are neutral politically, super nice, and in it for all the right reasons, there always will be people who criticize you, and some will even make it personal.
Having “thick skin” is a cliché I’ve been thinking about and dealing with for years. I find it fascinating that, somehow, I am way more sensitive at home than I am at work – and by at work, I mean on the air for hours every day.
Even the angriest of listeners are engaging, and engagement is what I want. Sometimes, it can throw a show off-balance, but if handled properly, it should never fully derail you.
Over the years, I have modified my professional behavior, perspective, and attitude, yet my foundational approach has not changed. It began with my first full-time television job when a journalist/mentor of mine told me not to ever act interested in ratings. Rather, he said, focus on my performance and content — the rest would take care of itself.
In my first two anchor/host jobs, it worked wonderfully. I immersed myself in the job, and the ratings were strong. I thought it was a mandate to always take this approach, although in retrospect, I was probably more lucky than good. Regardless, following that mantra actually allowed me to learn my craft and not be overly aware that ratings mattered.
Ignorance was journalistic bliss.
Flash forward to 2024 and it all seems rather naïve, but I think the approach really works well with criticism, too, whether it be on social media, through phone calls or even with fellow hosts.
Just a quick note on nuance: Look at the sentence four paragraphs above – don’t act interested. Looking back at the guidance given by my mentor, his point also seemed to be that even if you are laser-focused on how a show is rating, don’t make it a major topic of conversation, and don’t let people think it defines you as a broadcaster and journalist.
All of it may seem like advice from Fantasyland, but in an indirect way, this approach also makes me less vulnerable to criticism. I simply don’t focus on it too much, and over time, it stopped bothering me even if I did focus on it. Make sense?
Of course, it’s not as if I like it when a listener rips me or the show, either directly or on social media; but I never engage emotionally, and if I do respond in any way, it’s usually content-focused.
That’s the key.
Engage in the content of the criticism and ignore the rest – or at least take the high road. If that gets difficult, end the conversation.
You have the conch. Never forget that.
Ultimately, you’ll feel better, especially knowing you did not take the bait and handled it professionally – no need to create any more tension than is already out in the media eether.
That brings me to the moment a host of a show on my station was sharply critical of an interview I had done, saying it was soft, and not holding the guest (a sitting U.S. Senator) accountable enough.
Specific questions were put forth that absolutely should have been asked, according to the host, and honestly, it was used as a chest puffer for that person to show why certain guests were scared to come on that later show.
And … I thought it was great.
Well, maybe not great, but I actually had no problem with it. First and foremost, they were talking about it, which is good. When I can provide that kind of grist, it’s good radio. It wasn’t always easy to listen to — I was still in the office doing some booking — but for some reason, it did not bother me. This from a guy who gets a one-second side eye from my wife of 20 years, and I think our marriage is in trouble.
In the end, a few of the criticisms were helpful, believe it or not: One or two of the suggested questions put forth on the later show should have been asked.
It’s all part of the balance I seek to create a place where members of both political parties feel comfortable coming on our network. I always reserve the right to ask difficult questions, and I do ask them (apparently not enough for some), but I also try and be balanced and manage relationships.
It’s delicate, and sometimes, elicits criticism – sometimes deserved. Meanwhile, I just focus on the content, naïve as that may be.
Brian Shactman is a weekly columnist for Barrett News Radio. In addition to writing for BNM, Brian can be heard weekday mornings in Hartford, CT on 1080 WTIC hosting the popular morning program ‘Brian & Company’. During his career, Brian has worked for ESPN, CNBC, MSNBC, and local TV channels in Connecticut and Massachusetts. You can find him on Twitter @bshactman.
CBS Mornings Scores Big Post-Super Ratings Win
CBS Mornings became the most-watched program from 7-9 a.m. in total viewers for just the second time ever for a CBS morning news show.
The historic ratings milestones continue for CBS as a result of Super Bowl LVIII.
Less than nine hours following what turned out to be the most-watched telecast in U.S. TV history to date (120.25 million of the near-124 million watching Super Bowl LVIII did so on CBS), CBS Mornings became the most-watched program from 7-9 a.m. in total viewers for just the second time ever for a CBS morning news show.
For the Monday, Feb. 12 edition of CBS Mornings, which featured co-host Nate Burleson from Las Vegas, the site of Super Bowl LVIII, and a visit from Jon Stewart in New York to promote his Daily Show return (which generated great ratings milestones of its own later that night), it delivered 2.9 million total viewers including 654,000 within the key 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. It marked its best total audience and demo figures since Feb. 4, 2022.
CBS Mornings topped ABC’s Good Morning America, the usual morning news viewer leader, by a mere 7,000 viewers; it also outdrew NBC’s Today (2.86 million) by 49,000 viewers.
CBS also bested ABC in A25-54 by +103,000; the sixth time CBS Mornings has led over Good Morning America this season based on the key demo.
This was not the first time a morning show benefited from a halo effect of what the network had aired the night prior. Mar. 8, 2021, was the first time CBS won in the morning. It was the day after Oprah Winfrey’s primetime interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had aired which drew 17.1 million viewers for CBS. The Mar. 8, 2021 edition of CBS This Morning featured an exclusive interview with Winfrey and the premiere of never-before-seen clips from the Meghan and Prince Harry discussion, had delivered 4.793 million viewers with 1.026 million of them in the 25-54 demographic.
The program changed its title to CBS Mornings in September 2021.
For this 2023-24 season, CBS Mornings has the smallest deficit margin in viewers with ABC’s Good Morning America since the 2017-18 season and the tightest margin in A25-54 ever.
Douglas Pucci is a Bronx native and NYU graduate analyzing news television ratings for Barrett News Media. He did an internship at VH1’s “Pop Up Video” in 1997. After college, Pucci went on to design, build and maintain websites for various non-profit organizations in his hometown of New York City. He has worked alongside media industry observer Marc Berman for over a decade reporting on all things television, first at Cross MediaWorks from 2011-15 then at Programming Insider since 2016. Pucci also contributed to the sports website Awful Announcing. Read more: https://programminginsider.com/author/douglas/